February 5, 2015

Ross Ulbricht, the Creator and Owner of the Silk Road Website, Found Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court on All Counts

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ROSS WILLIAM ULBRICHT, a/k/a “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a/k/a “DPR,” a/k/a “Silk Road,” was found guilty yesterday on all seven counts in connection with his operation and ownership of Silk Road, a hidden website designed to enable its users to buy and sell illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services anonymously and beyond the reach of law enforcement, following a four-week trial before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As a unanimous jury has found, Ross William Ulbricht operated Silk Road—a clandestine global marketplace that offered buyers and sellers of illegal goods and services a promise of anonymity. Ulbricht built this black market bazaar to exploit the dark web and the digital currency Bitcoin to allow users to conduct illegal business beyond the reach of law enforcement. Ulbricht’s arrest and conviction—and our seizure of millions of dollars of Silk Road Bitcoins—should send a clear message to anyone else attempting to operate an online criminal enterprise. The supposed anonymity of the dark web is not a protective shield from arrest and prosecution.”

According to the Complaint, the Superseding Indictment, and the evidence presented at trial:

ULBRICHT created Silk Road in approximately January 2011, and owned and operated the underground website until it was shut down by law enforcement authorities in October 2013. Silk Road emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet, serving as a sprawling black-market bazaar where unlawful goods and services, including illegal drugs of virtually all varieties, were bought and sold regularly by the site’s users. While in operation, Silk Road was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to distribute hundreds of kilograms of illegal drugs and other unlawful goods and services to well over a hundred thousand buyers, and to launder hundreds of millions of dollars deriving from these unlawful transactions.

ULBRICHT deliberately operated Silk Road as an online criminal marketplace intended to enable its users to buy and sell drugs and other illegal goods and services anonymously and outside the reach of law enforcement. ULBRICHT sought to anonymize transactions on Silk Road in two principal ways. First, ULBRICHT operated Silk Road on what is known as “The Onion Router,” or “Tor” network, a special network of computers on the Internet, distributed around the world, designed to conceal the true IP addresses of the computers on the network and thereby the identities of the networks’ users. Second, ULBRICHT designed Silk Road to include a Bitcoin-based payment system that served to facilitate the illegal commerce conducted on the site, including by concealing the identities and locations of the users transmitting and receiving funds through the site.

The vast majority of items for sale on Silk Road were illegal drugs, which were openly advertised as such on the site. As of September 23, 2013, Silk Road had nearly 13,000 listings for controlled substances, listed under such categories as “Cannabis,” “Dissociatives,” “Ecstasy,” “Intoxicants,” “Opioids,” “Precursors,” “Prescription,” “Psychedelics,” and “Stimulants.” From November 2011 to September 2013, law enforcement agents made more than 60 individual undercover purchases of controlled substances from Silk Road vendors. These purchases included heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and LSD, among other illegal drugs, and were filled by vendors believed to be located in more than ten different countries, including the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Austria and France.

In addition to illegal narcotics, other illicit goods and services were openly bought and sold on Silk Road as well. For example, as of September 23, 2013, there were: 159 listings under the category “Services,” most of which offered computer hacking services, such as a listing by a vendor offering to hack into social networking accounts of the customer’s choosing; 801 listings under the category “Digital goods,” including malicious software, hacked accounts at various online services, and pirated media content; and 169 listings under the category “Forgeries,” including offers to produce fake driver’s licenses, passports, Social Security cards, utility bills, credit card statements, car insurance records, and other forms of false identification documents.

Using the online moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts,” or “DPR,” ULBRICHT controlled and oversaw every aspect of Silk Road, and managed a staff of paid, online administrators and computer programmers who assisted with the day-to-day operation of the site. Through his ownership and operation of Silk Road, ULBRICHT reaped commissions worth over $13 million generated from the illicit sales conducted through the site. ULBRICHT also demonstrated a willingness to use violence to protect his criminal enterprise and the anonymity of its users. ULBRICHT even solicited six murders-for-hire in connection with operating the site, although there is no evidence that these murders were actually carried out.

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ULBRICHT, 30, of San Francisco, California, was found guilty of: one count of distributing narcotics, one count of distributing narcotics by means of the Internet, and one count of conspiring to distribute narcotics, each of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years; one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison; one of count of conspiring to commit computer hacking, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiring to traffic in false identity documents, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years; and one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided for informational purposes only, as the sentence will be determined by the judge. ULBRICHT is scheduled to be sentenced on May 15, 2015.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its New York Special Operations and Cyber Division, as well as the outstanding investigative work of the DEA’s New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force, which comprises agents and officers of the DEA, the IRS, the New York City Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (“ICE”) Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), the New York State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, Office of Foreign Assets Control, and NY Department of Taxation. Mr. Bharara also thanked the ICE-HSI Chicago-O’Hare office for its assistance and support, as well as the Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Office of International Affairs. Additionally, Mr. Bharara praised the foreign law enforcement partners whose contributions to the success of the investigation and prosecution have been invaluable, namely, the Reykjavik Metropolitan Police of the Republic of Iceland, and the French Republic’s Central Office for the Fight Against Crime Linked to Information Technology and Communication.

Mr. Bharara also noted that the investigation remains ongoing.

The prosecution of this case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Serrin Turner and Timothy Howard are in charge of the prosecution, and Assistant United States Attorney Christine Magdo is in charge of the forfeiture aspects of the case.